Nicholson outlines priorities

Jim Nicholson
Jim Nicholson

The European Commission’s Work Programme for 2015 which outlines the new Commission’s priorities for the year ahead not just in agriculture but in all policy areas was published last month.

The programme is much more focused than is normally the case, containing just 23 as opposed to 130 new initiatives. These include an ambitious Investment Plan and a Digital Single Market Package.

The programme also includes a considerable commitment to review existing legislation and withdraw pending files as part of a wider simplification agenda.

Looking ahead there are a range of specific issues of note which will impact upon agriculture and rural communities. This is the year that the reformed CAP will be implemented and the nature of the package means that there will be challenges for farmers. Monitoring the situation closely to quickly identify and then address problems is a must. Commissioner Hogan stated that simplification was a “top priority” for his work programme when he appeared before MEPs in the Agriculture Committee last month and farmers will expect to see delivery on this pledge. I am keen to highlight any problems encountered by Northern Ireland farmers directly to the Commissioner and his team and I would therefore welcome any feedback as the package is rolled out on the ground.

Monitoring the impact of the abolition of milk quotas later this year is another key issue in the months ahead. I am preparing a report into the situation in the dairy market for the European Parliament and as part of this initiative a hearing is scheduled to take place in Brussels later this month. The hearing will bring together experts and stakeholders from across the supply chain and from across the EU in a bid to identify what measures are needed to help minimise the impact of volatility for the entire supply chain in the post quota era.

Trade deals are the other major issue firmly on the agenda, most notably the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Any potential trade agreement poses risks and opportunities. This is especially the case for agriculture, with analysts suggesting that such a deal between the EU and US would have a major impact on the EU’s suckler herd. While I welcome that Commissioner Hogan has reiterated that EU standards will not be sacrificed in trade deals, the pressure from President Obama and member states to speed up the process means it is vital that the interests of local producers are defended and I will continue to use my involvement to ensure that farmers are not used as a bargaining chip.

In addition to my on-going involvement in TTIP and preparing the dairy report I am also working on a number of other agri-related files which encompass a range of issues such as; cloning, medicated feeds, organic labelling and novel foods and again my aim will be to ensure that proposals are amended, simplified and made workable on the ground for farmers and other stakeholders.

As the Russian ban shows us in an increasingly globalised and interconnected world an unexpected event on the other side of the world can affect global markets and local producers. It is therefore vital that the EU’s agriculture budget is not diverted to alternative policy areas so that the Commission can respond effectively if difficulties arise in the future. The impact of the Russian ban must be continually monitored. The price of oil is another example of an external issue affecting the agri-food industry. The recent downward trend in prices must be passed along the chain to households and consumers – including farm businesses and I welcome that George Osborne has publicly stated that Treasury officials will study whether companies are indeed doing this. I have highlighted just some of the issues which we know are going to be a feature of 2015. I will continue to use my role as an MEP to work for the interests of the agricultural industry in the weeks and months ahead and I look forward to working closely with local stakeholders.

Finally, may I wish you all a healthy, happy and successful New Year.